Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

Oh Orlando. City of sunshine, swamps and serious mediocrity. Where every meal is a different flavor of Denny’s and the monotony of flat, mushy landscape is only interrupted by yet another timeshare or theme park.

The one upside to being stuck in Orlando for fourteen entire days is that Neil flew down for the weekend, and we got to experience a few of the Disney parks: Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Typhoon Lagoon.

Having a family and social circle completely devoid of people between the ages of 3-13, it’s been a VERY long time since I’ve paid attention to anything coming out of the Disney franchise. I do have extremely fond memories of going to Disneyland in California in 1994, and considering I was a surly teenager and went out of my way to ensure I wouldn’t have fond memories of anything, my return visit to Disney had a lot to live up to.

And oh how Animal Kingdom delivered! The immersion experience of feeling like one is in a “place” that is anywhere other than the everyday is in full-effect in this park. The staff cast have been fully brainwashed into being exceedingly friendly and helpful without being annoying, and the rides and shows are top-notch. The park isn’t as ride-intensive as the Magic Kingdom, so I felt like I really had a great experience for the one day we spent there.

The Typhoon Lagoon waterpark was also very well done as far as water-parks go. MASSIVE waves in the wave-pool, fun slides and the popular lazy-river of innertubes circling the park. A great place to beat the heat for the day. Complete with slushy, alcoholic drinks readily available.

It all makes me wonder, what the hell happened to Epcot?

I know when Epcot was built, it was supposed to be all “futuristic” and whatnot, but what was probably designed for futuristic minimalism just turned out to be awfully barren and desolate between the pavillions. I did not feel like I was somewhere special.

But even that wasn’t so bad when compared to the advertising.

Now I know that any Disney experience is an exercise in absorbing advertising in and of itself. But Epcot pushes it a step further with entire attractions and pavillions sponsored by big-ticket advertisors who don’t want you to forget it!

The “Honey I Shrunk the Audience” 3D show was preceeded by a full 10-minute video by Kodak urging us all to “take more pictures” because “pictures trigger memories” (note: Neil and I didn’t actually bring a camera to any of our Disney experience, preferring just to enjoy, rather than document). After the attraction, the audience was shunted through to a Kodak store, where everyone can take photos and purchase cameras, memory, batteries, etc.

Same story with the Test Track ride – sponsored by GM, everyone is subjected to a video about how GM has innovated testing to make your car safe, then the fun roller-coaster-ride bit, then the audience exits first through a full GM Showroom (complete with window-stickers showing features and MSRP info) then the Test Track store where you can buy a model hummer or T-shirt with a hummer on it, or 12 different kinds of GM/Disney antenna balls.

And it goes on and on. The Coca Cola Cool Zone. HP’s Mission: Space. The Nestle Food Scientists presenting Living with the Land. Siemens’ IllumiNations fireworks show at the end of the night (complete with Laser images and gobos of the Siemens logo projected everywhere).

As far as I’m aware, Disney isn’t in any danger of going broke, and those attractions could certainly be “made possible” without the “generous grants” from the title sponsors. I expect that of the local $11/day admission PNE, not the $67/day admission Disney. For that amount of cash, I expect to be impressed and at Epcot, I just wasn’t. At all.

I think Walt would actually sigh and roll over in his cryogenic container if he were re-animated to see what had happened to Epcot.

One of the special programs you can sign up for at Disney is to dine with one of their Imagineers – something I’d love to do if/when I return to the parks. With products like the original Magic Kingdom, and the new Animal Kingdom, I’m fascinated with how their team dynamics work, bringing together the expertise to create experiences that make even me not mind the fact that I’m in a fenced-in area with thousands of other people’s children.

If I manage to have a chat with an Imagineer in the future, I now have another question to add to my list: what on earth prompted your talented team to just abandon Epcot, and make the fatal mistake of leaving the entire park in the hands of marketing and sponsorship revenue?

Be Sociable, Share!